Motives for Solidarity

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In classical sociological theory solidarity motives were thought to be

either inspired by affectivity and shared norms and values, or by instrumental

considerations like self-interest and rational choice. An example

of the first is the emotional commitment people feel toward their close

relatives; solidarity based on self-interest becomes visible, for instance,

in the collective arrangements of the welfare state: contributing collectively

is to the advantage of every individual citizen. A striking difference

between anthropological and sociological theory is the anthropologists’

attention paid to the principle of give-and-take, whereby each individual

gives about equally. The best illustration of the enormous significance

of this equality motive is still found in the anthropological literature on

gift exchange. Malinowski’s account of the Kula shows that the bulk of

the transactions between the inhabitants of the Trobriand Islands are of

the equality type. As noted in Chapter 2, it appears that also in Western

society the most common pattern is that the gift is followed by a more or

less equal countergift. The underlying motivation is in Mauss’s terms

do ut des, I give so that you give in return. This is also the basis of

the many forms of mutual help and types of local solidarity discussed

in Chapter 8. Perhaps the “normalcy” of this type of solidarity is the

reason why it has received such scarce attention in the sociological


Another possible motivation for solidarity particularly emphasized by

anthropologists is power. Both Mauss and Lґevi-Strauss showed how the

power motive could be involved in gift exchange: gifts can serve to reinforce

the personal prestige and status of the giver, but also to humiliate

or dominate the other party by putting him in a position of debt and

dependence. Later these insights were elaborated upon by the sociologist

Gouldner, but the anthropologists had clearly preceded him. It is obvious

that power can be a forceful motive sustaining mutual solidarity,

but there are various shades. A very strong internal group loyalty does

not necessarily lead to the exercise of power and oppression. Thinking in

terms of “us” and “them” can be observed in rival football clubs but also

in groups with different religious convictions or cultural backgrounds.

The relationship between the autochthonous population and the newcomers

in Western societies illustrates the possible consequences. The

more one exclusively identifies with one’s own group and refrains from

interaction with outsiders, the more negative effects on the outside world

the intragroup solidarity will have, and the less the willingness to engage

in intergroup cooperation and trust.

Groups tied by strong ethnic or nationalist identifications, as it

were, need inimical other groups for their own survival. Their selfidentification

derives its legitimacy from the identification of other

groups as the enemy. In extreme cases hate can breed the lust for power.

The aim of the group becomes self-preservation through the oppression

of outsiders by means of violence and destruction. The former

Yugoslavia is one of the many examples showing how nationalist or ethnic

pride and strong mutual solidarity can turn into ethnic cleansing

and violent oppression. In his book Blood and Belonging (1993) Michael

Ignatieff explores the numerous forms of new tribalism and nationalism

in our globalized world. The use of violence is legitimized by the perceived

threat to self-determination or the love for one’s own blood and

soil. The latter legitimization is perhaps the most convincing as it appeals

to the supposedly better parts of human nature. In Ignatieff ’swords: “But

if nationalism legitimizes an appeal to blood loyalty, and in turn blood

sacrifice, it can only do so persuasively if it seems to appeal to people’s

better natures, and not just to their worst instincts. Since killing is not a

business to be taken lightly, it must be done for a reason which makes its

perpetrator think well of himself. If violence is to be legitimated, it must

be in the name of all that is best in a people, and what is better than their

love of home?” (1993: 6). Solidarity springing from feelings of “blood and

belonging” is the most perverted of all solidarities. Self-interest is not a

sufficient motive to explain this type of solidarity. The need to protect

one’s own group ideals and identity by oppressing others through exercising

power and using violence is predominant here. This type of solidarity

is based on the complete denial of the humanness of the other party.

Different from what modern sociology suggests, four broad categories

of motives seem to underlie solidarity: affection, equality, power, and

instrumentality or self-interest. Solidarity theory, then, would gain by

adding equality and power to the more common motives of affectivity

and instrumentality.